Thursday, June 30, 2016

Look what's coming!

I got a glorious cover for my upcoming thriller Friendly Fire, which will be published by Riptide in October. It had it's reveal on Boy Meets Boy Reviews earlier this week, but now I will share it with my darlins! It's available for preorder, btw:

*internal squeeing*

Yeah, baby!  Want to know what it's about?

Elliot McKenzie is the king of reinvention. Five years after losing his job and his lover and almost going to prison, his self-help program, Charmed Life, is more successful than he’d ever dreamed. He thinks he’s put his sordid past firmly behind him, until he starts receiving cryptic threats . . . and realizes it might not be as over as he’d hoped. 
Security expert Lennox West has been lost since a deadly skirmish in Afghanistan led to his forced retirement from the Army. His PTSD makes helping his ex raise their daughter a challenge. When his ex’s sister asks him to set her boss up with a security system, Lennox isn’t expecting anyone like Elliot McKenzie—a man who captures his attention and makes him feel relaxed for the first time since leaving the service.
But Elliott is dangerously stubborn. Even as the threats against him escalate, he refuses to involve the police, and Lennox fears that stubbornness could kill him. A battle of wills ensues that brings them closer to each other than either man expected. But if the threats turn real, they might not live long enough to get their future together. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Train: Chapter Seven, Part Two

Notes: Okay, so this is a shorter segment than usual. In my defense, my parents just came into town, my brother and SIL and their two kids come in today, I've been cleaning house nonstop not to mention working the day job, and we just got a dog (my brother's dog, in fact). I have a lot going on! This is a pretty exciting segment though, for what it's worth ;)

We're starting to wrap things up here!

Title: The Train: Chapter Seven, Part Two


Chapter Seven, Part Two


The wind hit Anton like a sheet of ice shattering against his body.

The train traveled higher into the mountains, the last vestiges of spring vanishing beneath the chill of freshly-descending snow. The flakes had just begun to fall, but Anton felt every one of them on his overheated skin. He struggled to his feet, then immediately lurched back down to hands and knees as the train started a turn. He could barely hear his own frantic breaths over the sound of the wheels on the tracks, but every hammering pulse of his heart rang through his body like a warning: run, run, run.

Anton began to crawl down the top of the train. It was gently convex, making it a little harder to balance on, but he wouldn’t have to stay up there long. He just needed to get far enough along to drop down between this car and the next, and get back inside. He would find Camille, and then they would…something. It didn’t matter. Camille would know what to do.

Anton glanced back and blanched when he saw a pair of hands grasp the rail. He forced himself upright and made his way to the end of the roof, looked down at the slender ladder on the side of the hall that connected this car and the next, and found the door it connected to―already open? A pale, frightened face stared up at him for a moment before the door slammed resolutely shut. Even over all the noise, Anton could hear the solid clack of the lock being pushed into place.

What was Madame Orlande doing down there?

Anton didn’t have time to indulge in the sudden realization of her complicity. Clearly he wasn’t going to get in through this door. The train had stabilized some: he took a step back, then jumped from the top of Sleeping Car Four onto Sleeping Car Three. He had to make it farther forward before Madame Orlande could cut off all his avenues of escape.

“You! Stop!”

Anton glanced back and immediately wished he hadn’t. His would-be assassin was there—the porter, of course, who else could have known where Anton had just been? He held the gun that never missed in one hand, pointed squarely at Anton’s chest. It was a strange thing, small but broad in his hand. Why hadn’t he simply fired yet?

“Give me the book,” he demanded.

“The…book?” Under the guise of steadying himself, Anton inched backward. “What book?”

“The book you stole from the real Hasler! It wasn’t in the holdall.”

“What?” Anton was actually distracted from his own mortality for a moment by sheer surprise. He hadn’t moved the palimpsest.

“It wasn’t on that buffoon either,” the porter snarled. “Tell me where you left it and I’ll leave your corpse pretty enough to still be recognizable to your family.”

In a split-second decision, Anton decided to play along. Hopefully his assailant hadn’t noticed his gaffe a moment ago. “You want the book?” He patted his pocket. “You’ll have to come and get it. Shoot me now,” he added quickly, “and my body will fall from the train before you can catch it! You’ll lose everything!”

The porter didn’t speak again. He just began running forward.

Anton’s body finally seemed to find its feet. He ran, veering a bit as he slipped on the wet surface of the roof, but he made it to the next car, and the next, without further incident. He didn’t dare look behind him—he couldn’t spare the time. He had to make it to the engineer’s booth. Madame Orlande surely wouldn’t get that far, and even if the door was shut, Anton had options once he got there. He could go beneath the train, find a place to seclude himself and wait for help. Camille would be looking for him. He would be—

A crushing weight slammed into his back, knocking him down onto his face. He was still two cars away from the engineer’s booth, but the porter had caught up to him. He hadn’t been fast enough.

Panic gave Anton the strength to roll over, extending his arms to keep the porter away. The man’s handsome face was contorted with anger, one hand holding the gun menacingly while the other reached for Anton, pawing at the front of his jacket. “Give it to me!”

“Get off!” Anton brought his legs up and kicked at the porter, who fell back a bit. Only once he was out of reach did Anton realize his mistake. The porter was too far away to get a hold on—too far away for Anton to keep him from pulling the trigger.

“I’ll take it from you once you’re dead, then.” He leveled the gun at Anton’s head. Anton’s mouth flooded with the taste of copper, his entire body thrumming with helpless energy. He was going to die, he was going to die for nothing—

Bang! The gun went off just as the train lurched into a screaming, laborious halt. The porter flew back, and the bullet went down into the car beneath them instead of straight into Anton’s brain. Anton felt his lungs start working again, a fresh fire stoked inside his chest. He threw himself at his assailant, desperate to get his hands on the gun. He needed to get the gun away from the porter, to throw it from the train. They grappled fiercely, Anton drawing on reserves he didn’t realize he had. It didn’t seem like they would be enough, though. The porter was taller, stronger—Anton was outmatched. The gun slowly came to bear between them, the muzzle coming closer and closer to the space beneath Anton’s ribs. Oh God, no, he couldn’t end like this. This couldn’t be it.

Anton barely registered the brief pressure at the base of his spine. The feel of a hand was there and gone, and a moment later the porter’s mouth lost its sneer, lips going slack. His fierce eyes slowly went blank, and his relentless grip on the gun released. A long-fingered hand retrieved it before it fell.

Anton rolled over onto his back and stared at Camille, dumbfounded. “You…you…”

Camille took one of Anton’s hands and wrapped it tightly around the rail. “Hold on,” he directed. “I must secure the body.” He did so quickly, tying the porter to the roof with his own shredded jacket. The knife still protruded from the man’s back, the black of its handle gleaming in a way that seemed almost satisfied. Anton watched in a daze.

“Now you must climb down.”

“I don’t…” Anton shook his head. “I don’t know if my legs work right now.”

“They, and you, have no choice. Come. We need to get you inside.” Camille wrapped one arm around Anton’s waist and helped him scoot on his read toward the front of the car. It was undignified but effective, and within five minutes Anton was off the roof and back inside the train, this time in the lounge car. People gasped, and several women screamed. Anton had no idea how he looked, but his appearance had to be rather ghastly.

“Stay here.” Camille pressed him back into a chair. “I will return in a moment.” He left, and Anton had to bite his lip to keep from calling him back.

“He must be off to arrest another of them,” one of the consuls remarked.

Anton cleared his throat. “An…another who?”

“Another of the Dévoué, of course!” The man pointed toward the far end of the car. There was a body there, a small, slim body—Madame Orlande. The porter’s shot must have found it’s home inside of her. Beside her, his arms bound behind his back, her husband Bernard wept piteously.

Good God. What had happened while Anton had been running for his life?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Train: Chapter Seven, Part One

Notes: Murder! Mayhem! Not knowing who to trust! Things are picking up now, my darlins. I hope you enjoy this new chapter--we're actually getting fairly close to the end, although this is a couple I'll be revisiting in my copious (haha) spare time.

PS, I turned 34 last week. Oh my god. How.

Title: The Train: Chapter Seven, Part One.


Chapter Seven, Part One


Anton calculated the radius of the resonating spell as he walked slowly down the train. It was primarily an exercise in keeping his mind occupied, and not dwelling on the fact that with every step he took, he felt more―vulnerable? No, that word was too soft, and not one he wished to lay claim to. He would rather say he felt less at ease being on his own now than he had before he’d been nearly murdered. Yes, that had a better ring to it. Regardless, every step took him farther from Camille, and despite still believing in the possibility that Camille had been the target of the attack, Anton had to admit he felt less secure being separated from the man.

He had the air of authority that seemed natural to so many aristocrats, those born and bred to be obeyed. It wasn’t suffused with the same effortless condescension that the vast majority of them had, though. Anton wondered whether the “lord” part of Camille’s title was more than simply ceremonial.

Anton bit the inside of his cheek. He needed to focus, focus… The radius was likely two to four meters. No more than that. The headache truly had been part hunger, part spell, so Anton would have to be fairly close to the murderer before he could identify them.

Happily, no one stopped him on his slow meander down the train. The vast majority of the passengers had been herded into the lounge car, to be dealt with by Camille, and nothing about any of them had resonated with Anton as he passed along their outskirts. Someone had to be missing, though, and Anton was determined to discover who. Carefully, of course. Very carefully.

He reached Sleeping Car Four, and would have continued along his path had he not discovered that his and Camille’s compartment door was open a crack. Anton’s head felt fine—no resonance disturbed him, but the voice he could hear muttering to itself from within the room did. He drew closer and listened quietly.

“No tackle, no rod, no reel,” the man—the pitch was too low to be anything but a man—said in a tone of dismay. “No tackle, no rod, no reel. No tackle, no rod…” A moment later there was a snap, followed by a guttural “Bloody hell!” and the sound of the faucet running. Ah. The man had sprung the trap on Anton’s holdall. The water wouldn’t do him any good—it might feel like his hand was burning, but the trap was actually based on a nettle-like reaction. His skin was swelling even now, and the pain would endure for at least a day. It was far from lethal, but it would lesson any would-be thief.

Anton drew a little closer, so that he might attempt to glance through the crack in the door. He didn’t desire a confrontation―far from it―but at least whoever was in his room right now wasn’t armed with a magical killing machine. A little closer…a little closer…he was about to lean in when suddenly, the door at the end of the hall opened. The familiar handsome face of the porter emerged, and as soon as he saw Anton, he spoke up.

“Is there any trouble with your room, sir?”

“Ah.” Anton heard the faucet abruptly turn off. “No. None at all. Everything is fine, thank you. I mean, well, as fine as it can be, considering,” he demurred.

“It’s a terrible business, isn’t it, sir?” The porter shook his head as he drew closer. “The death of the viscount, that terrible business with the engineer. Are you holding up all right? May I bring you a drink?”

 “That won’t be necessary. It is terrible, but I’m bearing up well.”

“Are you sure?” Up close, the porter’s coquettish smile was slightly marred by a missing tooth, but he was still an undeniably handsome man. “If a drink isn’t to your fancy, perhaps a bit of private consolation would be more welcome. Your bunk mate will be busy for some time yet, I imagine.”

“I am sure he will, but I have no desire for company at this time.” Especially not when an intruder into my privacy is eavesdropping as we speak!

“As you wish, sir. The offer does stand, however.” The porter glanced at his door. “Is it sticking?”

“No, thank you, it’s…I was just about to go inside.” Perhaps the man within had found a decent hiding place, and Anton could enter and exit in short order.

“Very well, then. I’ll leave you to your work.” The porter moved slowly down the hall, glancing curiously back at Anton more than once. There was no help for it. He had to go in. Anton took a breath, opened the door all the way, and stepped inside the small room.

Consul Olivier stared at him in consternation.

“Oh, hell,” Anton whispered. He shut the door behind him, not taking his eyes off the consul. “Sir, what are you doing here?”

“I—I might ask you the same thing!” Olivier blustered, his florid face redder than usual, glistening with nervous sweat. “No tackle.” His voice was grim. “No rod. No reel. You are not the real Consul Hasler, are you? The man I corresponded with would not travel across town without his fishing gear, much less take on an assignment in an entirely new country! You, sir, are an imposter!”

Anton opened his mouth to say, The real man didn’t have any bloody tackle, rod or reel either! but knew that such an outburst wouldn’t help his cause. He cleared his throat. “I am a thaumaturge in the employ of Lord Lumière. The deception was necessary.” It was true, in the very strictest sense of the word. “The man you knew as Consul Hasler was not who you thought.”

“Why did you come on board this train?” Olivier thrust one swollen, ruddy finger at Anton. “If Hasler isn’t who you’re after, then why did you come here? What did you expect to find? You could not have known such things would occur—the murder of a viscount? Incredible nonsense! You must have been after something else. What was it?” He drew closer, his face contorted with fear. “Is it the Dévoué? Because I have nothing to do with them, I swear! Was Hasler one of them? I did not know when I got him this position. I would never pander to their cause!”

“What are you talking about?” Anton demanded, rubbing his fingers along his temple. “Who are the Dévoué?” Odd, that the translation device didn’t work on that word. It had to sense somehow that it was a proper noun, a name rather than a description.

Consul Olivier narrowed his eyes. “How can you not know, if you work for a lumière? What kind of assistant to the emperor’s intelligence officer doesn’t know of such things?”

“I have only been—” The strain Anton felt within his head made sudden, horrifying sense. He turned and slammed the lock closed on the compartment door, then dragged the chair in front of the handle. It quivered a moment later. Anton drew back against the far wall, the pain spiking as he craned his neck around the room, looking for anything that might get him and Olivier out of this. It was too late to cast a spell; he didn’t have enough time to prepare something defensive. The knife would not help him through a door, but the gun’s wielder could shoot him dead without even trying. The only option that remained was…

“The roof.” Anton picked up the nearest heavy object, the pewter pitcher beside the sink, and slammed it into the window. The first blow only cracked the glass, but on the second strike the window shattered, and Olivier actually jumped.

“What are you doing?” he demanded.

“You must come with me,” Anton said as he stepped carefully up onto the sink. Cold wind blew through the room, setting the drapes swirling. Anton gazed longingly at his holdall, but knew bringing it would only slow him down. He maneuvered himself through the window, wincing as a jagged glass edge sliced into his thigh. “Come if you want to live!” he insisted when Olivier had yet to move to follow him.

“You’re mad,” Olivier murmured, staring at Anton like he’d lost his mind. Behind them, the doorknob rattled again. “Mad! Why would I follow you outside?”

“Because the man beyond the door wishes to kill me!”

“So? I’m not you! You aren’t even you, you imposter! Perhaps I should inform him of that!” Olivier turned and strutted over to the door, heaving on the chair.


Olivier turned to glare at him. “You—” The bang of a gunshot ended his brief denouncement, a gory hole appearing square between his eyes. The killing bullet lodged in the wooden frame next to Anton’s head.

“Oh God.” Anton knew he needed to move―his very life depended on it―but for a moment the corpse of this garrulous, briefly-known acquaintance held him transfixed. He hadn’t actually seen the knife kill the original Hasler, not graphically. He hadn’t seen the bullet destroy the engineer’s face, hadn’t even looked at the bloody aftermath for longer than a telling glance. This? It was almost impossible to look away from. Brains oozed like sludge from the crater between Olivier’s eyes, which seemed to look at him accusatorily.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, before straightening up and groping for the ledge on the roof of the train. There, there—the thin bronze railing that had seemed so bright and decorative in Paris might now save his life. As he pulled himself onto the roof, he heard the door in his room splinter apart. His assailant could now see that he’d gotten the wrong man. He could see how Anton had escaped.

Anton had to run.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Train: Chapter Six, Part Two

Notes: Resolution! And I'm about to send our gents off in separate directions for a bit, so we'll see if Anton stays out of trouble. Ha. Hahahahaha.

Title: The Train: Chapter Six, Part Two


Chapter Six, Part Two


For a moment, Anton was sure he would fall from the train. He let go of the rail as he clutched at his head, helpless to resist the action as his pain reached a crushing crescendo. He actually felt himself fade back, a moment of near-weightlessness taking him as his body arced into the wind.

An iron grip fastened onto the front of his frock coat, grasping and hauling him forward inexorably. Anton leaned into Camille’s chest and tried to clear his eyes of the stars that floated across them. The worst of the pain was dissipating now—the shooter, or at least the gun itself, was moving away. Anton was still alive, and unhurt. And Camille seemed to be as well, which meant—

“Who?” Anton croaked, mouth unaccountably dry. “Who was shot?”

Camille’s face was hard, but his arm around Anton was surprisingly gentle. Strong, but not crushing now that he was no longer in imminent danger. “The conductor,” he said, his tone grim. “It was a ricochet. We have to get inside, now.”

Anton didn’t want to reenter the train. He didn’t want to see young Bert kneeling next to his father’s body, crying as blood seeped through the knees of his overalls. He didn’t want to see Monsieur Cassan appear in the door, horror stopping him in his tracks before he rushed forward to put an arm around the lad’s shoulder. He didn’t want to see the corpse of a man who had spoken to him not ten minutes ago, head split from the force of the bullet that had penetrated it.

Anton didn’t have a choice, though. He saw all these things as if in a daze, not quite able to listen as Camille spoke to Cassan, and then to Bert, before pulling Anton into the tiny hall that led to the rest of the cars. He ensconced them not in the lounge car, but in the Viscount’s former, palatial car, closing the door firmly behind them. He sat Anton down on the edge of the bed, then moved to the small beverage cart against the wall, still well-stocked.

“Drink.” Anton stared blankly at the glass. “It’s only water,” Camille added gently. “Nothing to blur your mind, I promise.”

“I wouldn’t mind a bit of blurring,” Anton admitted, but he took the glass and managed to hold onto the heavy crystal. The water was lukewarm, but entirely welcome to his parched palate. He drained it, then another as Camille refilled the glass from a silver pitcher. The third he was able to nurse a bit, and he turned wide eyes to Camille. “I didn’t know that would happen.”

“Of course you didn’t.”

“I didn’t want him to die. I just wanted to keep you from being shot.”

“Anton, none of this is your fault.” Camille tipped his chin up to look him in the eyes. “You do realize that, don’t you?”

“I had a headache,” he confessed. “It got worse and worse, and I thought it was hunger but it was the resonance spell. If I had realized sooner, I could have—warned you, warned him, something—”

“You didn’t make whoever it was pull the trigger,” Camille said. “Nor could you have prevented him from doing it with a simple warning. There was nowhere to retreat to from there, not unless we descended beneath the train again, and we didn’t have the time for that. You could not have stopped someone from dying in there.” Camille took a deep breath. “You did, however, likely keep me from dying. For that you have my deepest gratitude.”

“Well.” Anton tried to smile, but he couldn’t quite make his lips shape one. “You returned the favor when you prevented me from falling to my death, so I believe we should consider ourselves even.” Looking into Camille’s face now, so close and concerned, it seemed unbelievable that he had ever found it…nondescript. It was the most vivid, most real thing he had ever seen. He leaned forward as though caught in a whirlpool, unable and unwilling to escape. Camille didn’t move, let him draw close, closer—

Knock knock.

“That would be the meal I requested,” Camille murmured. “You need to eat.” He stood up before Anton could protest, went to the door and opened it. The dark-haired porter who had cleaned Anton’s suit was waiting, tray in hand. Camille plucked it from him with a quiet thanks, then shut the door again.

Anton’s stomach twisted a bit at the smell of food. “I don’t know that I can eat right now.”

“A simple breakfast,” Camille promised as he set the tray down. “Just a croissant with jam and some strong tea. Without it I fear you’ll topple over in moments.” He uncovered the food and filled the blue china cup, then placed it on a saucer and handed it to Anton. “Try, please.”

“And what will you do while I prevent myself from fainting?” Anton asked a bit acidly before he took his first sip. It was a strong blend, very bracing. He added a bit of milk.

“I will think on the matter of who might want to kill you.”

Anton instantly shook his head. “That gun was aimed at you, not me! I’m a simple thaumaturge; I’m completely immaterial to this situation!”

You, as you really are, might be,” Camille agreed. “But the man you’re impersonating likely wasn’t. Given the similarities between the knife and the gun, it’s logical to think that Consul Hasler had one or more connections here on the train. If someone has realized that you aren’t who you purport to be, they may take that quite personally.

“Moreover, murdering a lumière carries the stiffest of judicial penalties, even beyond those associated with killing a member of the nobility. We are the eyes and arms of the emperor, his tools for justice among the populace. If I were to be killed here, everyone aboard this train would suffer the emperor’s questioning. Whereas your death would merely result in a minor outcry, followed by the revelation that you were an imposter, and possibly involved in the original murder. Your death would be hard to explain, but very convenient if a scapegoat were needed.”

Anton stared at Camille, who looked right back at him, undisturbed. “Do eat the croissant.”

If Anton’s stomach hadn’t growled audibly at that moment, he would have ignored Camille on principle. He wasn’t a child who needed every action overseen, but he was beginning to recover his sense of hunger. He reached out and took a bite of the croissant, and had to close his eyes for a moment. Flaky, with a rich, buttery taste offset by the tart sweetness of the jam. It was just a croissant, but in that moment it was the first meal of a man who had narrowly escaped death only minutes ago. It tasted divine.

“Good,” Camille said, and Anton wasn’t sure why until he realized the croissant was gone, nothing but scattered crumbs across the dark velvet of his jacket marking it’s existence. He had practically inhaled it. There was a second one, and Anton took it without prompting this time.

Camille continued. “What we need to do next is identify the gunman.”

“But, wait,” Anton interjected. “If the conductor is dead, who is driving the train? Surely not his son—”

“Bert is far too perturbed at the moment to take over his duties,” Camille agreed. “No, Monsieur Cassan has a basic ability there. He said he took it upon himself to learn how to step in for any member of his staff, including the engineer. He will continue us on our way.”

“The consuls will demand we stop.” It was only reasonable. “After a second murder? They won’t want to continue, and with the conductor dead—”

“They will demand it, and I will refuse them,” Camille said. “But I need more information in order to tell them that without having to fight an angry mob of crows. We need to locate the gunman, or failing that, the gun itself. Can you find it?”

Anton sighed. “It would be a far easier task if it were being held. You understand that resonance spells need to have something to resonate against, yes? Most spells, even those engraved in metal, are fundamentally weak things. It isn’t until they’re being used that they gain power. If I were to unsheathe the knife I carry, and then lock it away in a box and shove it to the back of a wardrobe, the spells imbuing it would be practically inert. The resonation between the knife and gun while both were being carried, however, was nearly incapacitating. I am a strong thaumaturge, but spells requiring a…a gentler touch have never been my forte.” Caroline had chided him for his inability in that arena for years, eventually beating success into him through the twin mechanisms of challenge and encouragement, but she had a far defter hand.

“Nevertheless,” Camille said. Just that, and that was enough.

“Yes, I will look for it.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Train: Chapter Six, Part One

Notes: We're back! And people are getting shot at! Woohoo! Into the action we go. Please don't kill me at the end.

Title: The Train: Chapter Six, Part One


Chapter Six, Part One


Anton had just finished downing a glass of water and was considering calling the porter to see about having a meal brought to him when Camille returned. A faint smiled curled his moustache upward, and there was an air about him that could only be dubbed ‘satisfied.’ Anton waited for him to close the door before interrogating him. “You look like a cat that got the cream. What did you find out?”

“Did you know,” Camille drawled as he took off his hat and set it on his bunk, “that the water used to supply our rooms comes from tanks set beneath the train?”

“Yes, Monsieur Cassan said as much when he welcomed us aboard.”

“And did you also know that there is a service ladder that passes alongside them, so that they may be reached and worked on more effectively?”

“That…makes sense…”

“And might I add,” Camille went on, his smile growing a bit wider, “that all of the tanks are connected? So that if, say, the train is heading downhill, the water within the tanks surges to the front of the train, leaving some of the rear tanks less full. Likewise, as we ascend, the tanks in the front of the train would empty, if there was not sufficient water within to keep them replete.” He tilted his head slightly, pinning Anton with a heavy-lidded stare that might have seemed lustful, had the subject matter been otherwise. “We entered the foothills late last night. We’re ascending steadily now, and when I tested the faucets in the Viscount’s private bath, they barely ran at all. The tank beneath his suite is likely less half full.”

“Are you…wait.” Anton shut his eyes for a moment, breathing away the tension in his shoulders and considering the issue at hand. Camille was leading him, teasing him with answers, but he could discover them on his own. “You think that Viscount Bonaparte was shot from below.”

“It’s the most logical conclusion from his death miasma.”

“Which means you think that his attacker had to be beneath his car. Actually within the water tank, which would be all right, since there was apparently room to breathe.”

“Each tank has a maintenance hatch in the top of it, large enough for a limber person to enter.” Camille’s smile dimmed a bit. “But I haven’t yet determined how whoever it was withstood the heat of the water within the tank. From what I understand, the spell keeping it warm is powered by the steam engine, so as long as the train is moving, the water must be hot. Almost boiling hot.”

The sense memory snapped into place in Anton’s mind, the wince that came from unrelentingly chill water on his hands. “But it wasn’t hot last night,” he said. “I remember, I had to relieve myself and the water from the taps…it was cold. It stayed cold.”

“Interesting.” Camille sat down across from Anton in one of the little sitting room chairs. He looked slightly odd, folding his long body into it, but he didn’t seem to care about the spectacle he made. “How, do you think, would a person manage that?”

“The easiest way would be shutting down the heating elements of the central spell, but that would be permanent unless you were the thaumaturge who wrought it in the first place. Seeing as we have hot water today, the next best thing would be a temporary glyph drawn on the tank itself. It would have to be big, and it wouldn’t last for long, but…” Anton thought the problem through a bit more. “If it were in chalk, you might have, oh, five minutes? Wax would be a bit better, but on a hot tank I wouldn’t risk it.”

Camille’s smile was back in full force. Anton, so unused of late to obvious approbation, basked in it. “Well-reasoned,” he said. “The next thing to do, then, is to confirm that this is the case.” He stood up and put his hat back on, then held a hand out to Anton. “Are you ready to do a bit of climbing?”

Anton almost reflexively took the hand before his brain caught him with him. “Climb―wait, you want to―”

“Of course. We can’t waste any time.”

“But the train is still moving! And there’s actual snow on the ground outside now.” Spring hadn’t yet caught up to this part of France.

“Then it will be bracing. Come now.” Camille wiggled his fingers and Anton rolled his eyes, then accepted the hand up. Even with the assistance, his head spun a bit as he got to his feet.

Camille frowned. “Are you unwell?”

“Just hungry.” Anton managed a smile. “I’ll go gallivanting beneath the train with you, but after that we’re ordering something to eat.”

“Understandable.” Camille stared at Anton in silence for a long moment, before Anton realized he was still gripping the man’s hand.

“My apologies,” he muttered, feeling an unflattering blush spread across his cheeks. “We should go.”

“We should, yes.” Camille didn’t hurry, though, continuing his perusal of Anton’s discomfort until it had gone beyond the bounds of simple rudeness into something that might, possibly, be fascination. But that was ridiculous, and Anton was starving.

“Shall we, then?”


The passengers knew better than to push and pull at them now as they moved, although several of the other consuls, including Olivier, shot them dark looks. As they reached the front of the train, Camille led Anton down the little hall that led to the engineer’s booth. “The only way to access the ladder that leads to the bottom of the train is through the booth,” he explained as they squeezed up to the front. The air was colder here, evidence of less insulation, and the noise of the engine was far louder. “That is where the shooter must have descended as well, unless he or she is capable of some remarkable feats of acrobatics.”

“Which is possible, with the right spells,” Anton said.

“Possible, but rather a lot of work to go to when the easiest thing is to use the mechanical device provided. If spellwork was used, then it could have been used to trick the engineer into not seeing them.”

“Or he might be in collusion with the killer,” Anton offered.

“Not something we can overlook, but I’ve spoken to the man, and his apprentice, and they both seem genuinely astonished by the turn of events.” Camille shrugged slightly, then rapped on the door to the engineer’s booth. It opened a moment later, revealing a slight young man, hardly older than a boy, in the baggy striped uniform of a train’s conductor. “H’lo, Lordship,” he said, bobbing a little bow as he got out of the way. “Da, Lordship’s back!”

“Good, good.” The actual conductor in charge of the train was only a few inches taller than his son, and brown from the sun that shined through the glass at the front of the booth. “The faster you find what you’re looking for, the faster you gents can be out of my booth, beggin’ your pardon, Lord,” he said briskly. “It’s a mite cramped up here for two—four’d lead to bloodshed in minutes.”

Camille smiled, unoffended. “We won’t be long, sir. If you could open the trapdoor for us?”

“Aye, course.” Rather than reaching down and picking up a panel, though, he pressed down on a pedal. Anton heard something clang, but he couldn’t see it. “You’ll want to head out the left door here,” the man continued. “Hold onto the rail nice an’ tight, and if you need help, call for Bert.” He ruffled his son’s hair. The lad jerked his head back, but he was smiling. “Be careful, sirs.”

“We shall be.” Camille set his hat aside again, and indicated that Anton should do the same. “Come on then.”

Anton tried to keep the astonishment off his face, but he knew he hadn’t succeeded well enough, the way Bert was softly snickering at him. He steeled himself and followed Camille out of the booth, and immediately grabbed onto the polished brass rail with both hands. Bloody hell, it was cold out here. Camille was already rounding the front of the train, stepping carefully down to the nose of the machine, where a neat round hold that Anton hadn’t even realized was there had suddenly appeared.

“Why is this out here?” Anton demanded, shouting over the noise of the wind as he picked his way along the rail.

“Space considerations—the luxury is for the passengers, not the workers,” Camille shouted back as he levered himself through the hole feet-first. “Do hurry up. I need your eyes on this.” Then he was gone, leaving Anton dangling against the side of the train in the wind by himself. He glanced back up at the little booth, where Bert waved cheerfully as soon as he saw him looking.

“Ridiculous,” Anton grumbled, but he followed suit. There was indeed a ladder beneath the train, less something to climb along though, more something to scoot his back against as he slowly made his way. The noise from the engine was deafening, the heat of burning fuel and steam from the water tank a strange dichotomy to the cold he felt on the side that wasn’t closest to them. He made his way laboriously, carefully, and by the time he got to Camille, who had politely made room for him ten feet back, he was more than done with the whole endeavor.

“Any sign of a glyph or sigil?” Anton asked as he cast his eyes along the side of the main water tank. The dark, linked contraptions extended down as far as his eye could see, but this was the largest by far.

“Not that I can tell,” Camille replied. “But it might be that I’m looking with the wrong sort of eyes.”

Wrong sort of…oh. It was one of the earliest things a thaumaturge learned, and one of the few which didn’t take any sort of equipment: aura detection. The ability to see something magical, even if it wasn’t evident to the naked eye. Anton relaxed his jaw, took a deep breath, and let his eyes wander. Nothing seemed to stand out at first, but as he got slightly further into his trance, he realized—

“There.” He pointed. “Black chalk, it’s hard to see against the dirt. It’s been imbued with something that diminishes its aura as well, but I can make it out. A freezing glyph.” Large and powerful and rather sloppy.

“Freezing? Wouldn’t that result in no water at all?”

“Not from chalk,” Anton replied. “It can’t contain the power well enough. It would chill things off, but the heat would return almost as quickly as it left.”

“Interesting.” Camille nodded once. “Give me a moment to confirm.” He vanished further down the ladder, and Anton took the opportunity to close his eyes. His headache was coming back, getting worse. He needed food, and tea, and a few minutes to catch his breath. He’d be lucky if he didn’t tip over into a migraine at this point.

He didn’t even notice Camille’s reappearance until the man was beside him, their bodies pressed together. Camille looked at him tensely, but only said, “We had better get back inside.” He helped Anton along, steadying him when necessary, until they were both upright at the front of the train again.

God, the headache was excruciating. It was all Anton could do to hold on. Camille’s long fingers closed over his on the rail, keeping his grip firm. “Come on,” he murmured. “Just a little bit further, come on.” They shuffled along the train together, but by the time they got to the door Anton felt like his head was going to split in two. Which was―not from a headache. It was the resonance spell, which meant…

He put it together almost too late. Anton jerked his eyes toward the far door, the entrance to the booth, which was open just a crack. The muzzle of a gun protruded into the space, and neither Bert nor his father had seen it. It swiveled toward him and Camille, and Anton reacted violently, ramming his shoulder into Camille so hard they both almost fell from their precarious perch, trying to get them out of the doorway and the sites of that deadly weapon.


Thursday, June 2, 2016

Redstone Vignette: Good F*cking Riddance

Notes: I promised someone I would do this, it is. Let's blow some shit up!

Title: Redstone Vignette: Good F*cking Riddance


“We’ve reached the required safe distance from the blast zone, Ma’am.”

Grace Grave, Head Warden of Caravan and Acting-Warden of Redstone, calmly folded her hands in her lap. “Thank you, Lieutenant Hendricks. Put Redstone on screen, please.” The floating penitentiary sprang into sight, a misshapen reddish ingot slowly twisting its way through space. Grace’s fingers tightened so much she felt her knuckles crack. How she had come to loathe that place during her brief tenure there.

Grace was no stranger to distasteful things. She had served with the Federation army for almost fifty years, working her way up from Private to Colonel. She had participated in and fought against invasions, occupations, and guerilla warfare on nine different planets. She had seen atrocities committed on a mass scale, felt the helplessness of inaction, and the futility of her own burning desire to make a difference. The army was too regimented to enact meaningful change even if she became a commanding general, and so Grace had taken an early retirement and moved on to a far more focused and controllable environment: prisons.

There were just as many laws on the Federation books concerning treatment of actual prisoners as there were for enemy combatants and prisoners of war, but while no plan survived the battlefield, in a closed system, Grace felt she could enact real change. Not that it was easy: she’d had to justify mass firings of irredeemable guards, retrainings for the ones that could be taught, and new methodologies for rehabilitation and prisoner interaction. It had cost most of her political capital and a great deal of personal grief to make Caravan into a place where she could look upon her work with quiet pride. That Grace had no one left to share that satisfaction with was…disappointing, but the work was more important than her private life.

She had known Redstone was bad. The whole time she’d spent shaping up Caravan, she’d been aware of the worsening reputation of the only other maximum-security penitentiary in the Federation. It was where the hardest cases were sent, where men and women went to never be seen again. She had heard, and to her shame, she had remained silent, content to better her own small, grimy corner of the universe. And her reticence to get involved had possibly cost the lives of two of the best men she’d ever known.

Don’t dwell on it. Grace had already lost too much sleep over Robbie and Wyl Sinclair. As hard as it was to put them aside, she had a whole new population to work into Caravan now: a prison population that was used to much more vicious circumstances. Over half of the inmates from Redstone had been transferred to her facility, and it would take a lot of oversight to keep them from sliding back into bad habits, or encouraging those habits in the current residents. Grace would have to be vigilant, and she couldn’t do that if she spent all her time worrying. God willing, she would meet that couple again someday. But as for today…

Today was entirely about her personal satisfaction. “Arm the mines.”

“Arming.” Hendricks nodded a moment later. “Mines are live, Ma’am. Control routed to your station.” He paused, then said, “Any last words?”

Grace smiled coldly. “Good fucking riddance.” She jammed her thumb into the activation panel. A moment later, the empty carcass of one of the worst blights in the Federations’ bloated regime exploded, disintegrating into atoms with the force of the blast. Light filled the screen, reflected in Grace’s rapt gaze. She captured the force of the explosion in her memory, the intensity of her own pleasure at seeing it destroyed, and then—the light was gone. It was over.

Redstone Penitentiary was no more.